MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) — We’re nearing eight months since Russia invaded Ukraine, with over 15,000 casualties already being reported and the number expected to rise.
As the war continues, a delegation from Ukraine is in Wisconsin this week learning blood donation practices from experts at Versiti they hope to bring back to war-torn Ukraine and help save lives.
“We want to defend our country and liberate it from Russian occupation,” said Olena Malhym, deputy director at the Kharkiv Regional Blood Service Center. “We appreciate program Open World which gave us this ability to visit the United States and meet with local blood centers.”
The Kharkiv Regional Blood Service Center was damaged by Russian artillery in late February. Malhym says people waiting in line to donate blood at the time were wounded, as well as workers. The efforts were moved into the blood center’s basement, where they continue today.
“We’ve been fully operating, we never stopped,” Malhym said. “We haven’t stopped for one day. We are working and trying to supply blood to the Ukrainian people.”
Versiti is a community blood center that supplies blood and blood products to hundreds of hospitals and medical clinics in five states. The nonprofit was given the opportunity to host the delegates through the Open World program of the Congressional Office for International Leadership and Friendship Force of Milwaukee.
“I think the fact that we’ve been here for 75 years and we’re the largest blood center in the Midwest, with lots of expertise in science and medicine, allowed us to be chosen,” explained Chris Miskel, president and CEO at Versiti. “People need people. We know that, whether it’s in the United States, whether that’s in southeast Wisconsin, whether that’s in Ukraine.”
Miskel says the delegation will learn from experts at Versiti everything from recruitment to blood collection.
“They’ll be focused on what it takes to inspire and motivate donors, what it looks like to collect, whether it’s a whole blood unit or with a machine,” Miskel said. “The donor testing processes we have, so once we have that unit, we can make sure it’s safe for transfusion, and then how we take that unit and make sure it gets to our hospital partners so that they can save lives.”
Malhym says she and her team are hopeful they’ll be able to take the lessons learned back home as their nation’s fight for independence from Russia continues.
“This experience, we’ve seen how everything done here will help us to see the skill, to implement skills we’ve seen here, some of the skills to our blood systems which is in the developing stages of our country now,” Malhym explained. “Hopefully, we will be able to implement some things in Ukraine by applying some of American experience to our systems.”
The group will train with the Versiti staff until Thursday before meeting with members from Froedtert on Friday. Come Saturday, they will go back to their home nation.
Malhym says while the trip to the U.S. has been both educational and enjoyable, her heart, and the hearts of her fellow delegates, remain in Ukraine.
“It’s a little bit hard because physically, you’re here in this beautiful country, under peaceful skies, wonderful city; but your soul is back in Ukraine. Your family, your children are there and every day you wake up with the thought, ‘Is everything okay with them?” Malhym explained. “You want to go back. You want to keep helping your country, helping Ukraine to fight this Russian aggression. I would like to wish to American citizens to be healthy and always have a peaceful sky above their heads.”
Malhym says blood donation will be a key part in Ukraine being successful against Russia.
“The power of the donor’s blood, it’s a very, very important in terms of fighting the war,” said Malhym. “People who cannot go physically the front lines and fight with the guns, they come to the blood centers and they donate blood. This way, they feel like they help and are doing something for their future victory of Ukraine.”